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Were Alyssa Ramirez to have made the unfortunate decision to touch the creature she caught while pier fishing last week in the Gulf of Mexico near Port Isabel, Texas, she'd likely have been injected with a powerful neurotoxin for her effort. That's the defense mechanism unleashed by this small-but-mighty nautical nemesis.
Not that Ramirez knew specifically what she was dealing with. But she did have the good sense to leave the roughly 3-inch creature alone.
“Luckily I didn’t have to touch it because it let go of my bait,” Ramirez told USA Today. “By the way it moved and the red colors it had, I knew not to touch it. I placed it on the rail of the pier, [where it let go and] I took video and pictures of it … It wiggled around for a few minutes and then it fell into the water by itself.”
After encountering the creature that puts the wild in wildlife, Ramirez turned to the experts at Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) for identification help. Via their Facebook page, TPW quickly (well, after a dramatic tease asking the community to guess) identified the creature as a bearded fireworm.
“It’s a bearded fireworm, named for its painful sting,” the post notes. “These fireworms spend most of their time on the ocean floor but will flare out their bristles when disturbed.”
Those bristles on its flanks are where the neurotoxin is injected. If you should unfortunately get stung by one, you can experience hours worth of pain that feels like your skin is on fire, and can cause dizziness and nausea. Thus the name “fireworm.”
But there’s another reason these tiny torturers — found in warm, shallow waters in and around the Atlantic Ocean — are fiery: They glow! According to Science and the Sea, a site linked to by TPW in their post, when fireworms come to the surface to mate, sometimes the female will produce “an enticing green glow.” Flirtatiously, the male will then wink back with his own flash of light.
Sounds alluring, right? Well, except for the fiery skin bit.